WASHINGTON (RNS) A widening coalition of critics is urging the Obama administration to drop the practice of permitting religious groups to hire and fire based on a person’s faith when they receive federal money, saying Obama is reneging on a promise he made in 2008 to change that policy.

Ninety organizations wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder after discovering a new Department of Justice document that details rules on prohibiting discrimination by grant recipients as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

More and more citizens are petitioning U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration to prevent federally-funded religious groups from considering applicants' faith when making hiring decisions

More and more citizens are petitioning President Obama and his administration to prevent federally funded religious groups from considering applicants’ faith when making hiring decisions. Public domain image by Pete Souza

The 11-page FAQ document, issued in April and citing a 2007 DOJ memo issued by the Bush administration, says faith-based organizations “may prefer co-religionists for employees in programs funded by covered grants” if they meet certain criteria.

Signatories to the June 10 letter said the Bush-era memo from the Office of Legal Counsel should be withdrawn because it “threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections” in the Justice Department and other federal agencies. They say the memo undermines new nondiscrimination language in the Violence Against Women Act.

The department’s latest wording “means the government is endorsing discrimination by federally funded faith-based organizations,” said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney with Muslim Advocates, a signatory to the letter.

Obama originally campaigned against the Bush-era discrimination policy, vowing to change it once he was in the White House.

“If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion,” Obama said in 2008.

For more than a decade, members of the informal Coalition Against Religious Discrimination have urged Congress and the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to prevent discriminatory hiring based on religion. With the new reauthorization of the anti-violence law, a number of additional groups — including more than a dozen women’s and LGBT organizations — have signed onto the latest request.

Richard Foltin is the director of national and legislative affairs in AJC's Office of Government and International Affairs.

Richard Foltin is the director of national and legislative affairs in the American Jewish Committee’s Office of Government and International Affairs. RNS photo courtesy AJC

“This letter stands for the principle that at the very least we should not have a systematic structure in place that provides for a categorical exemption of religious organizations,” said Richard Foltin, director of national and legislative affairs for the American Jewish Committee, a longtime member of the coalition that signed the letter to Holder.

Maggie Garrett, legislative director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, another signatory, called the FAQ’s language “particularly shocking in the instance of the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) because Congress actively debated this nondiscrimination provision and knowingly decided to apply the provision to religious organizations.”

Other signatories include a range of groups of faith and no faith, such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Hindu American Foundation, Interfaith Alliance, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Secular Coalition for America, Sikh Council on Religion and Education, and Unitarian Universalist Association.

Representatives of several groups that signed the letter said they have not received a response from the Justice Department. Obama administration officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Administration officials have long said the discrimination issue would be determined on a case-by-case basis. When Obama revamped Bush’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2010, he did not address whether grant recipients could hire and fire based on religion. Administration officials have long said those issues would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“Our effort is to continue to hold the administration to this,” Foltin said of Obama’s campaign pledge.

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18 Comments

  1. Before any fuss with Obama about religious hiring practices, everyone should be yelling loud and clear about his continuation of the Bush policy of ignoring the constitutionally required separation of church and state. Obama has retained the Bush Faith-Based program. He has made it even worse by appointing church ministers to manage it.

    • If u woke up tomorrow, and the world was perfect, and there were no religious people….what would you then do to find meaning in your life? What would then make you happy….or would you not be happy and then become more misrable than ever?

      • Barry the Baptist

        I would continue on as I do today: learning, loving, and living. If I woke up tomorrow, and all religious practice was done, I would be pretty happy.

        Knowing that all of those people who previously supported numerous unsubstantiated claims would turn those energies to something more productive than praying would leave me pretty happy.

        Knowing that violence, hatred, and ignorance could no longer be blamed on religion would give me a sense of peace and a hope that we could now address the real problems at the root of human existence.

        As an aside, I can’t even trust people’s religious convictions now; I certainly won’t lend them any greater confidence tomorrow.

  2. The chain that submits freedom of association to federal decree is federal money. Where does this federal money come from? Traditionally secular AND religious people in society, via their annual tax stripmining operations.

    But here, in this article, you are the think that the receivership of federal money was sourced from the efforts of only secular taxpayers. So only a secular sourced mandate may be imposed on those receiving it. Its just not the case. But hey, what the hell. I think the country and its people crap at this point anyway so why fight it?

    Fully one third of all gov debt is currently held by our nations “lender of last resort”…which is the only magical entity in the country whose liabilites imply no backing, legal collateral or bond to future performance. Such magic is why they are the only ones who can do this, as their balance sheet is meaningless and wad from thr start. So the idea that federal hiring mandate should follow the “will of a secular people” is increasing being squeezed out as our trash money comes home to roost and economic performace flops again and again. It will he hard to justify secular will as a extension of secular money when all americas debt is owned by a magic money printer.

    But again, why think independently at this point?

    • Exactly – dont confuse ignorant liberals with the reality of the Constitution. They dont know it because the liberal educational indoctrination systems doesnt want people to be too well versed in their God given, Constitutionally recognized rights!

  3. Are you suggesting that a Christian or other cleric is NOT allowed to hold a government position? A minister cannot run for political office? How is this different from your complaint? There is no Constitutionally required separation of church and state as you seem to be defining it!

    • They have changed the concept to fit their need. Now it depends on federal money. By changing the dependency from protecting freedom of religous people and secular people equally to federal money, the receiver is now subordinated to give up their claim to freedom. Much in the same way all debt subordinates the future productivity (labor) of thr debtor to the legal power (and consumption) of the lender.

      Never mind that both groups are supposedly taxed as the source of that money. Only a secular mandate may be imposed on the debtor despite a mixed source. Its just another volume in the necromancy of americas systems.

    • Only those members who understand the limits to how seriously our laws and government must take their religious beliefs. Anyone else is simply trying to subvert the system for the benefit of their own sect/faith.

      They are certainly not allowed to enact laws based entirely on their religious beliefs with no rational or secular purpose. They are supposed to uphold laws regardless of whether the subjects of them are members of the same faith or not. They are not to give members of their sect/faith preferential treatment under the law. They are not to engage in sectarian discrimination or try to enact laws which call for it.

  4. This is why people who take their faith seriously were skeptical of Bush’s faith-based initiative in the first place:

    Step 1: Federal funding provided to faith-based organizations

    Step 2: Government puts limits on funds such that only those religious groups aligned with secular thinking qualify for the funds

    Step 3: End result: Government funds programs repugnant to a broad sector of Americans in the name of cooperation between the Government and the churches. The one benefit: Government has outsourced its social programs to volunteer organizations so that at least we’re paying less for this hogwash.

    • Yet people who “take their faith seriously” loved the validation that comes with accepting money from the Federal government and the attendant influence on public policy it created. A great example is exemption from various workplace discrimination laws they got when joining the program.

      When push comes to shove, Christians would rather sacrifice integrity for a little bit of authority and government influence.

  5. Chaplain Martin

    As a person who has made a historical study of the First Amendmen, and who holds to its meaning as did John Leland a Baptist who lobbied both Madison and Jefferson for it, any church or faith group should never take federal or state funds. For me, as a Christian minister, to do so would destroy a part of my freedom as well as my witness. It has been well said, “what the government funds, the government controls”.

    Feds look at a social program that is faith based and working well and see an opportunity to get credit for good work by contributing to it. Then come the rules and multiple paper work.

    If a religious organization wants federal or state funds to go to a social work program they are doing then they need to incorporate that program as a separate secular organization. Hiring and firing would follow secular standards.

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